The play is based around two young men, one is an upright young man called Jack who lives in the country. However, in order to escape the drudgery of hishighly conservative lifestyle he has created an alter-ego, Ernest, who has all kinds of reprobate fun in London. Jack says he often has to visit his poor brother Ernest, which gives him hisopportunity to escape his boring life and have fun with his good friend, Algernon.
However, Algernon comes to suspect that Jack is leading a double life when he finds a personal message in one of Jack’scigarette cases. Jack makes a clean breast of his life, including the fact that he has a young and attractive guardian by the name of Cecily Cardew back on his estate in Gloucestershire. This peeksAlgenon's interest and, uninvited, he turns up on the estate pretending to be Jack’s brother--the reprobate Ernest--in order to woo Cecily.
In the meantime, Jack's fiancée, (and Algernon's cousin)Gwendolen has also arrived, and Jack admits to her that he is, in fact, not called Ernest, but is called Jack. Algernon, despite his better judgment, also confesses to Cecily that his name is not Ernesteither. This causes a good deal of trouble in our heroes' love lives, as both women have a rather strange attachment to the name Ernest, and cannot consider marrying anyone who does not go by that name.There is another impediment to the marriages. Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell, will not countenance her daughter marrying someone of Jack's social status (he was an orphan who was found by hisadoptive parents in a handbag at King's Cross Station).
As Jack is Cecily's guardian, he will not allow her to marry Algernon unless his aunt, Lady Bracknell changes her mind. This seemingly irresolvableconundrum becomes brilliantly solved when, on inspection of the handbag, Lady Bracknell reveals that Algernon's brother had become lost in just such a handbag, and that Jack must, in actuality, be...